Updated on April 12, 2021
A dial caliper is a measuring tool used by machinists, mechanics, and wood workers. Dial calipers are extremely versatile and can make a wide range of measurements.
With a little practice, they will allow you to make a fast, direct measurement or comparison in seconds. The best dial caliper will be easy to read, accurate, easy to adjust, and built to last.
Note: If super precise measurements or easy metric/imperial switching are required, a digital caliper should also be considered.
All of the calipers below are 6-inch variations, which are the most commonly used but some models have longer versions as well. All picks also feature hardened stainless steel so rust should not be an issue with proper usage (unlike various other budget calipers).
Our 5 Favorite Dial Calipers
|Mitutoyo 505-742-56||1.0 lbs||Decimal||.100"/Rev||+/- .001"|
|Brown & Sharpe 599-579-5||5.6 oz||Decimal||.100"/Rev||+/- .001"|
|Starrett 1202F-6||14.9 oz||Decimal/Fractional||.100"/Rev||+/- .001"|
|Anytime Tools AT203185||11.4 oz||Decimal||.100"/Rev||+/- .001"|
|Oshlun MTDCF-06||8 oz||Decimal/Fractional||1.00"/Rev||+/- .001"|
Dial Caliper Reviews
When it comes to dial calipers, you really can’t beat this Mitutoyo 6″ dial caliper. This particular model is manufactured in Brazil and lauded by the tool community for being well made, accurate, and one of the smoothest as far as operation is concerned. You’ll love the feel, fit, and finish of this caliper.
This caliper features a redesigned easy-to-read dial for ultra-smooth movement and high shock protection. The dial face is black, instead of the typical white, and we find that makes it easier to read. It can measure OD (outside diameter), ID (inside diameter), depth, and steps with precision accuracy.
The Mitutoyo features a lock screw for both the dial bezel and for holding the sliding jaw in position. It holds a setting quite well when locked. This dial caliper measures to .0001 inch, and has a range of 0-6 inches. The thumb roller allows for easy adjustment with just one hand.
This Mitutoyo caliper is made of hardened stainless steel and wear surfaces are coated with tin to decrease wear, which makes it built to last. A fitted, hard plastic case comes with this caliper for safe storage and travel.
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This Brown & Sharpe model features a 1.25” diameter rotating dial and a lock screw to hold the jaw in position and ensure consistency. We love the quality feel of these Swiss made calipers.
The covered gear rack on this caliper keeps dirt and foreign matter out of the gear, which helps to ensure accuracy. This caliper can be used to measure inside diameter, outside diameter, step and depth from 0-6”. The dial face is black, and it operates with smooth, easy accuracy and zeroes every time.
These 6-inch version of this caliper does not have a thumb roller (8-inch and 12-inch do). However, it’s easy to adjust by sliding the carriage.
Although this caliper does come with a plastic case, it is not as rugged as others. You may need to purchase a sturdier case if you are working in a rough environment.
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We find the Starrett 1202F to be a well built, accurate 6-inch caliper. Starrett has a good reputation for precision and accuracy. In additional to the decimal readout on the inner wheel, a fractional readout on the outer wheel makes it perfect for woodworking.
It is a little heavier than other calipers, but that also makes it sturdier and it just feels high-end. The quality, fit, and feel of this caliper make it a pleasure to use.
The Starrett measures OD, ID, depth and steps using inches. It is accurate to 1/64”. The large, white dial face on this caliper is easy to read in any light. The dial’s inner scale is white, and the fractional outer scale is yellow.
This caliper is very smooth and easy to use with just one hand because of the thumb roller adjustment. The dial returns to zero every time.
Serious woodworkers will wonder how they ever got by without this tool. They are extremely useful in precision situations where tape, ruler, or combination square are not ideal for the task at hand.
A hard plastic case is included with this caliper. While no longer made in the USA, the quality of previous generation Starrett calipers still remains.
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This is one of the few dial calipers that has two needles and shows both inch and metric measurements on the dial, making it very versatile (we wish more calipers had this feature). You will be pleasantly surprised by the quality and accuracy of this tool.
We are impressed by how well made this tool feels. This caliper is made of hardened stainless steel throughout and features silky smooth, thumb-roll operation. The dial is glass smooth, with no jerky movements.
Inside, outside, step and depth measurements can be achieved with this tool, and they are very consistent and accurate. The tool has a nice finish, and the raised sliding surface prevents wear and tear to the graduations.
This caliper comes with a functional plastic case that has a fitted foam interior. While it’s not quite up to par with the three options above as far as build quality is concerned, you really can’t beat its quality for the price. Many consider this a good dial caliper for ammo reloading.
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Another affordable option, the Oshlun MTDCF Stainless Steel Dial Caliper can be purchased with either a fractional/decimal or decimal-only dial. It features a large 1-1/2 inch dial that’s one of the easiest to read.
The tool can be used for inside, outside, step and depth measurements. This caliper looks and feels almost as nice as those costing 3-5 times as much, and measures with the same accuracy.
This model has a standard thumb roller adjustment, making it easy to use with one hand. The fit and finish are very nice and a plastic case is included. The scale shows fractions of an inch down to 1/64th of an inch.
The biggest difference between this model and the others is that a full revolution of the dial equals 1-inch (as opposed to 0.1-inch). Some users say this caliper sometimes has an issue holding zero position but most have no issues there.
The Oshlun feels well built and easy to operate and read. A good cheap dial caliper that you won’t be afraid to accidentally drop on the floor as you would with the premium models.
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Types of Calipers
There are many different types of caliper available. Inside calipers, outside calipers, divider calipers, oddleg calipers, and micrometers are all used for a single purpose.
For more common, all-in-one measuring, there are three main types. Each one functions basically the same, but they have different ways of reading the result.
This is the most durable caliper type. It is the original design and careful alignment is required to achieve accuracy. It will also take a little practice to learn how to interpret the reading on this type of caliper.
The vernier caliper has dual scales that go along the top and bottom. The main scale is fixed while the secondary scale is a moving vernier scale.
The more precise vernier scale is used together with the main scale to provide an accurate measurement. A vernier caliper will usually show either metric and imperial measurements but some models show both.
A dial caliper is similar in construction to the Vernier caliper, but a dial indicator replaces the Vernier scale. The dial caliper can be used for making both direct and comparative measurements.
The dial caliper’s jaws slide past each other and allow contact points to fit into narrow openings for very small ID measurements.
The measurements are clearly displayed, making it easier to read than a traditional Vernier caliper. This type of caliper requires no batteries. Although they are not waterproof, the do work well even when damp.
One disadvantage of the dial caliper is that measurements are provided in either imperial or metric units, but not both (usually).
If you need both types of readings, you will need to learn how to convert your readings from one measurement system to the other, or purchase two different dial calipers.
Digital calipers are relatively new on the market. They are more expensive than a dial caliper, but they have numerous features that make them easier to read and use. With a digital caliper, you can easily switch between inches and metric units.
This type of caliper does not have any moving parts in the readout, which makes it more durable than a dial caliper. This type of caliper is great for very tough work environments. Check out our recommendations for best digital caliper.
How Do You Read a Dial Caliper?
- Close the jaws carefully but tightly. Be sure there is no light visible through the jaws. If you do see light, there is dirt on the jaws that needs to be cleaned off, or possibly a metal burr that needs to be filed off.
- While the jaws are completely closed, loosen the bezel nut and twist the outside dial to zero out the dial and then tighten the nut back up again.
- Clean the part to be measured carefully. Dust, dirt, and rust on the part being measured can greatly affect the accuracy of your measurement.
- Use the inside of the jaws to measure gaps and holes, and the outside to measure thickness, length and width.
- Now it’s time to open the jaws and measure the part. Be sure the jaws are square, or perpendicular, on the part you are attempting to measure. The jaws should be snug on the part, but you should still be able to slide it in and out without difficulty. Once you have the part positioned correctly, tighten the lock screw to hold the position of the caliper.
- To interpret the measurement, you need to know what the marks mean. Every mark equals 1/10, or .1 and every 10 marks equal 1 inch. On the dial indicator the number that the needle rests on is expressed in thousandths, so whatever number you receive will need to be multiplied by .001.
- Now, you will need to look at the straight edge to the left of the dial indicator. Find how many inches the straight edge went past and write the number down to the tenths of an inch. Now take the number from the dial indicator and multiply it by .001 and write it down.
- Add the numbers together, being sure the decimal places are correct. This is your final measurement.
Dial Caliper Usage Tips
- When using a dial caliper, it’s important to make sure they are kept clean and free of rust or scratches on the jaws and contact surfaces to keep your measurements as accurate as possible. We recommend storing your caliper in its original case and applying a thin coat of oil to the jaws to prevent rust or corrosion.
- You should handle your dial calipers with care. Dropping them or tossing them around on the workbench can cause the rack and pinion to become misaligned, leading to inaccurate measurements. Dial calipers should be re-calibrated once a year, just like any measuring tool.
- To get the most accurate measurements with your dial caliper, you will need to practice positioning the tool properly. The jaws must be held firmly against the part you are measuring and you need to be sure they are square, or perpendicular, to the part.